With everything going on in the world, here’s a story about a man who brings a fresh cup of joy wherever he goes. Raised in Hackettstown, Ed Abato had a very early passion for education, psychology, youth, community, and caring for people around him.
Ed also has an affinity for game shows. Abato took home $32,000 dollars when he won Wheel of Fortune only a few years after he took home a Tiffany lamp on The Price is Right. He describes himself as “lucky.” With a positive attitude to fuel him, Abato believes that the energy you exude comes back to you tenfold.
Teaching since his early 20s, Abato felt like there was a bigger playground to play in that could leave a bigger impact on the lives of children and youth. Having started teaching in Mendham and then later in Hackettstown, Abato’s hard work never fell on blind eyes. Parents and families are consistently filled with gratitude for his investment into the success of his students. Amid great success, life wasn’t easy.
Abato’s family suffered a tragedy when his sister passed away, only the beginning of a difficult journey to endure. Ed’s father required a kidney transplant, and he was a match. Ed willingly gave his father his own kidney, and that addressed a lot of his father’s ailments for years prior to his death.
It was during this time that Abato began to come to terms with his sexuality since nearly 10 years of his career was spent in the closet. Ed, one of three siblings, had another sister, Tina, who was a lesbian. Tina had inherited many of her father’s struggles with health, and while Abato was preparing to donate a part of his liver to her, she passed away suddenly from cirrhosis.
With a year and a half of this family’s spirits being battered, Abato refused to let the bright light within him dim. It was when he met former husband Anthony that Ed Abato doors began to open and his curtains were no longer drawn. Abato explains that up until this point he was so afraid of people in his community finding out that he was gay that dating usually happened very far away from his home.
When asked if pouring his life into his students families and his own family took away from his ability to connect with his true self, Abato explains that while he regrets not coming out sooner, he didn’t feel starved of his gayness. The closet didn’t impact his spirit negatively; it was simply a quiet place to stay until Anthony came along.
Abato describes Anthony as a good-hearted guy with a magnetic personality, who helped guide him into himself. After only meeting a few times, it was decided. It was time. On the way home, Abato called everyone in his life, excepting his mother and father, to tell them the news. He was gay. Many already knew. Everyone was fine with it. With a nod towards the closet, Abato gently closed the doors and found the support of his friends, family, administration, and community behind him.
Now, as principal of Byram Lakes Elementary School, the conservative community in Sussex County has overwhelmingly supported Abato. Parents, often inspired by how he represents his life, have welcomed him not only into their lives, but also the lives of their children as they learn and develop. Abato laughs, his heart full, when he hears students say, “Domo arigato, Mr. Abato.”
Some previous students, now openly gay, lend thanks to the impact Ed Abato has had on their lives, a beacon for their own self discovery. Abato uses his position as principal not to lobby or push any type of agenda. Instead, he leads in his position by inviting conversation, expecting his students to have teachable spirits and to be encouraged to ask questions, and creating a safe space for kids to be their true selves.
With New Jersey law now requiring that LGBTQ history be worked into curriculum Abato looks forward to exploring what this could look like at an elementary school level.
More recently, the district Vice President proudly illuminated his home bathing it in a flood of rainbow light for Pride month, with even greater pride for a small-town hero, Byram’s own Ed Abato.